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Olympic Weightlifting In Jeopardy Over Corruption

Andy Berg

Olympic weightlifting may be in jeopardy after the International Weightlifting Federation’s interim president was ousted and the International Olympic Committee expressed concern.

Interim president Ursula Garza Papendrea told the Associated Press that board members voted to remove her from office this week during a virtual meeting on Tuesday in which she did not attend. Papandrea had called the meeting for Wednesday.

The IWF said that first vice-president Intarat Yodbangtoey, of Thailand, chaired the meeting and assumed the powers of president.

Papandrea, a former U.S. weightlifter and coach, questioned the board’s authority to remove her before a full electoral congress. She also said that the board had repeatedly blocked her attempts to reshape the IWF after an investigation alleged widespread doping and corruption in the organization.

"As soon as I was in a position to make changes, I did," Papandrea told the AP. "These guys, they've had decades to write a new constitution, they've had decades to reform, and all of a sudden they're really going to do it now? I'm a little skeptical."

Board members reportedly blocked Papandrea’s attempts to implement a new ethics and integrity commission.

"I've got athletes, clean athletes, relying on me to try to make change, but change with this group is just untenable, in my opinion," she said.

The IWF did not give a reason for Papandrea’s removal but thanked her for her contribution in the last few months.

The IOC has previously warned the IWF that weightlifting's place on the program for the 2024 Paris Olympics could be brought into question if it didn't reform its management and crack down on doping. Weightlifting was on the program for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and has been part of every edition since 1920. 

"The IOC is very worried to learn about the reported decision made by the Board of the International Weightlifting Federation to replace the Acting President, Ms. Ursula Garza Papandrea, the way the decision was taken and the chosen replacement," the IOC said in a statement. "The IOC enjoyed excellent co-operation with her during her time in office, and is fully supportive of the reforms she has initiated in the IWF. Currently the IOC has not received all the information to fully assess the situation in its entirety." 

An investigation commissioned by the IWF found in June that 40 positive doping tests had been "hidden in the IWF records" during Ajan's tenure as president. The investigation found that $10.4 million was unaccounted for, and that voters were bribed in elections for IWF positions.

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